A Reparations Workshop: Let the Healing Begin

by Judy Niizawa

On February 28, 2016, the NAACP sponsored “A Reparations Workshop:  Let the Healing Begin” at the St. James A.M.E. Zion Church in San Mateo.  Among the panelists invited to speak was Judy Niizawa, San Jose JACL member and former Chapter President.  She was joined by Frederick Hubbard of the Bay Cities District A.M.E Churches; Winifred Sharper of the Christian Education Western Episcopal District; and Dr. Mary Lynn Wilson of the San Jose State University History Department.

There was a prelude of  musical selections on guitar and vocals performed  by Garrick Davis; a welcome message and prayer from Rev. Marilyn Bussey, a dramatic interpretation of MLK’s “I Have a Dream Speech” by Rev. Michael Henderson, and a current update on the reparations progress.

The thrust of the Afro American pursuit is based on the history of slavery and its on- going effects on the descendants of those who were held as slaves.  On their backs the USA became the number one world financial power.  Given the precedence of reparations given some Native American tribes, and the 1988 reparations bill signed by President Reagan for Japanese Americans, this group is seeking reparations from the government to recognize the on- going challenges  still being borne by the descendants of their forefathers who were held as slaves. 

Niizawa attempted in  15 minutes was to review the 20 years of her personal involvement leading up to receiving a check for $20,000 in 1990, accompanied by a letter of apology by President Clinton because it had taken that long for the last of the checks to be funded and dispersed.

There were many questions to Niizawa regarding the implementation of HR442.  Clearly, the  background work was not commonly understood.  Niizawa did a further review of the twenty years leading up to the actual distribution of reparations in 1990 beginning with President George Bush and completed in 1990 by President Clinton.  It roughly covered 85,000 who survived up to the Reagan signing on August 10, 1988.  There were no provisions for heirs but the onus was on the U. S. Government to find any and all deserving survivors including those who may have been in Japan and continued to live there.  The process was very long and very arduous for the JA community to get President Reagan to sign HR 442,  not to mention the additional efforts it took to get Senator Daniel Inouye to undertake the actual funding of the HR 442.

The Afro American movement as Niizawa could view it, appeared to be where the JA program was when President Jimmy Carter signed a bill to establish the Commission on Relocation and Internment of Civilians in 1979.  The Afro Am program has yet to have such a Bill passed by Congress.   However, they do seek support for HR 40:  Commission to Study Reparations for African-Americans Act, introduced a number of years ago by Representative John Conyers of Michigan and re-introduced many times over the years, but never having made it out of committee.  The audience was urged to contact their local Congress representative, Jackie Speier.